City, county seeking grant for emergency shelter in southeastern Albert Lea

Published 4:20 pm Thursday, October 13, 2022

The city of Albert Lea and Freeborn County are seeking funding through Homeland Security and Emergency Management to create an emergency shelter for residents living in mobile home parks or houses without basements in southeastern Albert Lea. 

Freeborn County Emergency Management Director Rich Hall said he became aware of potential funding available through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which provides grants to states and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures after a major disaster declaration with the purpose of reducing the loss of life and property due to natural disasters, according to the program website.

Hall said the state had three federal declarations this year that with them brought hazard mitigation funds that are now available through a competitive grant process.

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If the city and county are approved for the grant, 75% of the costs of the project would be paid for through FEMA funds disbursed through the state, and the city and county would split 25% of the cost. He said the local share could include in-kind labor and land value. 

The emergency shelter is proposed to be built at Sondergaard Park, which borders Gene Street on the west and south, Interstate Molding & Manufacturing and Myers Road on the north and Hot-Line Freight System on the east.

The structure would be required to withstand an EF3 tornado. 

Hall said the residents utilizing the structure would need to live within a half mile or five-minute walking distance and have no other shelter or basement. Estimates right now indicate there are probably 1,500 people within that criteria, he said. 

The size of the building has not yet been determined, though he said the building would be required to have 10 square feet per handicapped individual and 5 square feet for other individuals. A cost benefit analysis still needs to be completed to determine the exact size. 

Hall said he sent in the notice of interest for the grant funding on Thursday to the statewide hazard mitigation officer.

Albert Lea City Manager Ian Rigg said the grant could cover costs of the structure itself, including walls and roof and possibly an emergency generator, but if the entities decided to make it into more of an indoor event center or another amenity such as an indoor basketball court, the additional costs to do so could not be paid for with the funds. 

Rigg estimated at minimum the local share would be $100,000, though a definite cost had not yet been determined. 

“It’s a great project that shows our efforts to work together for a common purpose,” he said. 

The shelter has been a project frequently lobbied for by former 5th District Commissioner Mike Lee and present 5th District Commissioner Ted Herman. 

When asked about the project Wednesday, Herman said he was pleased to see the movement on the project. 

“This could potentially save lives,” he said.